“What happens when a radical runs a university?” This was the first question posed by the presenters at Express Newark’s roundtable during the Collaboratorium Symposium. Express Newark has worked diligently since 2017 to provide an intersectional space where the local community can channel its vibrant energy, with access to state-of-the-art facilities. A true collaborative idea in which community partners and the Rutgers University–Newark communicate on equal footing in what has been called “the Third Space.” Their focus areas include the arts, social justice, and entrepreneurship.
Express Newark offers over $200,000 in grants each year, as well as college courses, internships, and public workshops. With investments in the community infrastructure, they believe in the power of art as foundational for challenging the status quo, functioning as a countermeasure to today’s disjointed world. The location of the Third Space is expansive: three floors of the renovated Hanhe’s building, Express Newark uses the location to build trust by bridging differences in power, position, education, and resources. There are two co-directors at the helm currently; one appointed by the city, the other by Rutgers University (Victor L. Davson and Anne Schaper Englot).
“Who is at the table, how do we service the community?” asked Davson. Their initial goal was to provide a space for the University to leverage all of its assets back into the community; the way it should be, according to Davson.
“Being embedded in the community, re-training the community to be more engaging,” said Englot. Digital is the way of the world, and it is something they realize can be a vital factor in their community engagement. Currently, they are working with David Troutt at Rutger University on visualizing gentrification, a central issue in Newark. In addition, in an effort to further their outreach, they strive to work with the private sector. If the three work together – community organizations, universities, and private companies – they will realize their goal of returning Newark to its rich heritage.
Dawson mentioned opening “the gates” several times throughout the discussion. It is a point Express Newark is actively making every day. Some of the exciting opportunities offered on the second floor of Artistic Passion & Purpose are dance classes, make-up and skincare sessions, sewing instruction, and dance. Courses can range from ages 6 to 96, with weekly special guest instructors, events, and seminars, all seeking to bring the community together. The public access space will challenge how the Newark community sees itself and its relationship to the university, in which difficult dialogue is generated. As informal networks are built, the view of a university that is seen as “closed to the public” will change. It is a “year-by-year commitment,” and Express Newark is engaging in essential work during trying times.
This article was written by Montrell Chandler. Montrell is a passionate and dedicated writer pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The New School. Montrell is interested critically in writing about the film, music, and fashion industry.